I had an opportunity to corner Chief Commercial Officer Dave Zelis for a couple of questions about the state of the industry heading into Winter 2020-21 and what snow pros could expect with regard to new product development.
Snow contractors see equipment suppliers reinvesting in themselves as a reflection of healthy activity in the industry. However, contractors also want to know what this type of investment will mean for them.
Dave Zelis: This facility helps us address two main objectives. One, it provides space for inventory. When you’re talking equipment for snow and ice removal, those are big items and not shoe box-sized. So for our long-term future we’re going to continue pushing forward our brand preference, and in order to do that you need products on the shelf. When [a snow contractor] wants a snowplow they typically want it as soon as possible and not wait three months for it. That’s true for our distributors, as well. To have the product available when it’s needed you have to have inventory.
Second is the technology going into this addition. Right now, we can ship and LTL order within 24 hours, which is pretty strong for most manufacturers. This [new facility] will allow us to ship product even faster. From the moment we receive the order to the moment that particular order goes out the door, we’re looking at same day, if not a few hours, of having that order shipped. It’s the Amazon Effect, and we’re trying to mimic that for what we’re doing in the industry.
We’ve been struggling to persevere through this global pandemic and two disappointing winters. How these impacted Buyer’s and SnowDogg’s supply chain?
As far a market is concerned, suppliers, contractors and dealers have been a bit pensive going into this year. Uncertainty breeds a wait-and-see attitude in people. I can only speak from my position and we’ve seen some dealers get significantly more aggressive with their inventory positioning. And we are doing the same. Obviously, the pandemic has impacted every industry. And yes, I believe nearly everyone in our industry did feel it, especially when you thinking about the challenges of social distancing, PPEs, and state-mandated restrictions regarding the number of employees you can have in a [manufacturing] plant. These things will certainly curtail anyone’s manufacturing capabilities to a certain degree. We did see some of that, but I don’t think we were affected nearly as badly as some other companies, simply because we’re so diversified. That diversification, this past spring, allowed us to become designated as an essential business.
Every manufacturer must plan on a strong winter. If you don’t, then you are running the risk of leaving your customers and the contractors without the products that they’ll need to do their jobs. So, we have to constantly be looking at it as a heavy snow and ice year and be ready with the equipment and replacement parts that snow contractors are going to need. As soon as an organization stops thinking like that you’re going to get yourself and your customers – the snow and ice contractors – in trouble.
With the two lackluster winters contractors did not push as much snow. Therefore, they didn’t put as much wear and tear on their equipment. I can imagine there is a fair amount of available inventory. What can snow contractors expect to find in the market as they begin to make their purchasing decisions for this coming winter?
We’ve been working with an outside financing company on special deals that will help relieve the [financial] burden of making equipment purchases. In my opinion, people are being very cognizant with their cash flow and their cash position, and rightfully so with all of the [economic] uncertainty out there. I think people are going to start looking a value-based purchasing and what they are getting for their money. For the cost, what are they getting in return? And from our perspective, we believe [return on investment] is one of our strengths.
Voice of customer is an important component to your business. What are you hearing from the market about snow contractor needs and how is this directing you for future product decisions?
From day one, this is how we go about doing our business. We talk to the people who use our equipment to learn what they want and what they want that equipment to do. Pre-pandemic, we have multiple meetings per year where we invite dealers, distributors, and contractors to our facility to meet with our product managers and engineers to suggest design changes. We want to know if we fell short at some point with a particular piece of equipment. I much rather have to make an improvement than have users not say anything.
We certainly feel we’re strong on the salt spreader side of the business. And I have multiple conversations with industry professionals about liquid treating [equipment] and two years ago we introduced a spray line and we’re going to continue to fill this line out. And at the same time, we’ll explore any opportunity where the customers are telling us it’s equipment they want, they’re having trouble getting, or they feel the value is not there in the market. We look for those opportunities and if we can provide solutions that improves the market, then we will.